YAOUNDE - Cameroon and Central African Republic officials are asking truck drivers protesting the killing of 18 of their colleagues in fresh rebel attacks to go back to work as the drivers condemn persistent harassment from both rebels and C.A.R. government officials.
C.A.R. Transport Minister Arnaud Djoubaye Abazene said a food and humanitarian crisis looms as truck drivers refuse to transport goods from the Douala seaport in Cameroon to Bangui, the capital of his landlocked country.
He said his government can assure Cameroonian truck drivers that an agreement has been reached with forces of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA, to assure their protection.
Robert Nkili, Cameroon's minister of transport, said rebels from neighboring C.A.R. have also killed several Cameroonians recently.
"There is no driver who can accept to go to Bangui because of the insecurity there. We have had meetings several times but we have not had any major solution so I asked him (CAR'S minister of transport) to insist that MINUSCA should protect all Cameroonians who go there. If we do that, there will be no problem," said Nkili.
Landlocked C.A.R. depends on supplies exclusively from Cameroon's seaport of Douala, which Libom Li Likeng, Cameroon's customs chief, said is already congested with food and humanitarian assistance destined for troubled C.A.R.
El Hadj Oumarou, president of the drivers union, said they are not only targeted by rebels. He added that they are also harassed by C.A.R. officials who accuse them of transporting dangerous goods and weapons used by the rebels.
He acknowledged that some drivers might transport dangerous objects and weapons without knowing they are doing so. He said he has been telling all truck drivers to be vigilant and inform the military should they find out that someone is improperly transporting goods.
C.A.R. descended into chaos in March 2013, when Muslim Seleka rebels toppled Francoise Bozize's government, leading to reprisals from Christians who formed anti-Balaka militias.
Ninety percent of imports and exports and all humanitarian aid and supplies for MINUSCA forces transit through Douala.
The truck drivers say they will not resume work if their security is not assured and if five drivers held hostage or arrested on suspicion of transporting "dangerous goods" are not released.